She wandered through the thick, water-laden air, half mist, half rain, prismed in diffuse green of oak, dogwood, wild herbage. Sky distorted, writhed in turgid gray-black swirls that scared her, drove her onward. From nowhere to nowhere.
Somewhere nearby the ocean swelled and surged over virgin land in loud, unnatural roars.
She slipped, got up, slipped again and then saw two yellow eyes that seared into her eyes with instant effect. She fainted.
He found her curled up on a bed of wet grass, the big cat quietly washing herself, unconcerned. He took her into his arms, lifeless and pale, and carried her the short distance to the house.
He glanced toward the bedroom but laid her upon the couch, stared at her briefly to get some things straight, some rules of procedure: slender, freckled, reddish curly hair, Irish perhaps, 37, 38 years old, large blue eyes, a single, simple silver bracelet, only a little voluptuous.
She was soaked. He undressed her, hesitantly, expecting her to awaken at his touching, but sensed her utter exhaustion and covered her with the wool blanket he often fell asleep under while reading.
It was damp and chilly in the house so he arranged some oak kindling in the fireplace and the fragrant heat soon spread into the living room. It was only late September but the storm brought an early autumn cold. Her hair was mussed so he got a brush, very gently pulled it off her face, and was surprised to see drops of water fall upon her face, for he too was still wet with rain. She awakened. Their eyes met
” It’s all right,” he said softly, ” I found you in the trees, so I brought you here to dry out and get warm. It’s all right.” Soothing, nearly whispered words to reassure. She blinked a few times and pulled the blanket up.
” Would you like some tea, coffee?”
She cleared her throat. ” Tea, ” she said, barely audible.
Boiling water for tea and fixing espresso for himself he paused to think. I want her to stay, he said to himself.. She’s running from something, someone. Soon, she will tell me.
She looked about. Everything was perfect. This is where she had hoped to wake up. Warm, secure, golds and browns and yellows. Books everywhere, stacks of magazines, photographs of other lands, portraits of families, a bay window full of cascading geraniums. But where’s the cat? She remembered a cat.
He strode in, carrying tea and coffee on a small tray, crossing the small expanse of hardwood floor, both scared and exhilarated, moving slow to prolong the delicious ache in his heart, seeing her swaddled there on his own couch, watching her watch him, her eyes unafraid but questioning. He must be very careful.
“Some orange spice tea will warm you up. I’m having coffee,” he said, smiling like a kid.
She propped herself up on an elbow, the blanket slipping to reveal her collarbone and breast. She sipped her tea. He sipped his coffee Their small sounds were muffled by the buffeting of the storm, the staccato of branches scratching the window.
She looked up at him. ” The catÃ¢Â?Â¦?”
” Ah yes, Lyra. She actually found you first. She’s on the porch.”
He went to the door and opened it. A long, brown, sinewy shape rushed in, slid past him and walked over to her, the paws making no sound upon the floor.
Her eyes widened as she held the teacup suspended in midair. The lion stood there, a bit uncertain about this new being, on her couch no less.
” That’s her place you’re on. I wasn’t sure how she would react. The only thing that really upsets her is a loud noise. And sudden movements. Typical mountain lion.”
She did not attempt to touch the lion. Merely stared. They looked at each other for some moments until Lyra plopped down on the rug.
He leaned against the wall near the window, legs crossed, sipping his coffee, staring out at the tempest, trying to pause the situation for a moment.
She made it easy, putting her cup down and promptly falling asleep.
Evening came fast. He fixed a sandwich and poured a glass of wine. Afterwards, he sat down to read some of the Aeneid but soon put the book down. He could only watch her sleep, her face mottled by the flickering fire. One strand of red hair fallen across her face. Covered, concealed, the most secret of beings, a woman come out of nowhere, into his life.
What could be more important than to watch her, to watch over her?
He became sleepy and remembered he had run three miles along the beach that morning. But that seemed so far away. Was it really today? Those hours in the calm early dawn now resided in another dimension.
There was a split-the weather had changed radically, he had felt distracted and out of sorts, someone yelled at him inexplicably as he drove home, and then she appeared, amid these omens, as if they came with her.
He went over and touched her forehead. It felt normal. Her color had returned. She looked completely serene and composed in sleep, as if she had found bliss. The sleep of a child.
He read a little more but the constant drone of the wind and rain was an effective narcotic. His head fell back and sleep came fast.
She opened her eyes to a room softly lit by a single lamp, the fire having gone out. Her eyes moved around, her body still and warm under the blanket.
Something moved on the floor- the lion, stretching and letting out a strange feline cry. They stared at each other again.
She rose with the blanket around her, like a sleepy queen. She was hungry.
The kitchen was dark. There was no light switch where it should be. She moved forward and a hanging piece of string brushed her face. She pulled it and light flooded the room, her eyes wincing.
She peered into the fridge-strange what people keep-found a bowl of beans, sandwich stuff, and a very cold beer. She soon had a spread on the table, feeling better about life with every bite. She was very content to have found this place. Cozy and safe. And he was safe. She was sure of that. Felt like Goldilocks but without the bears. Just that lion.
There was a sound. He was getting up out of the chair. She wiped her mouth and took a swig of beer.
He stopped at the doorway, half smiling, tall and slender, thinning, gray-black hair, maybe 40, a small scar by his ear. The lion.
” Well, the patient has an appetite. Good sign.”
He microwaved the rest of the coffee and sat down opposite her.
” So what happened? Where did you come from?”
She took another sip, but said nothing.
He tapped his finger on the table and shook his head, smiling again. ” I’m going to let Lyra out. She get’s high strung during storms and I don’t know how she’ll be with you here.”
She gave him a funny look as he left the kitchen.
The night grew deeper, darker, and time moved through it with difficulty. The clock was just shy of midnight.
She walked down a short hallway where she found the bathroom. She looked into the mirror. The warm yellow light smoothed her face with a golden hue but the stress showed in the dark under her eyes. She had somehow aged in the past twelve hours. There was a brush and so she tried to smooth out the tangles in her hair. Small pieces of grass fell into the sink
There was a white shirt on hangar and she put in on.
She went out and quickly leaned into the dark bedroom, inhaling the scent of Ã¢Â?Â¦whatÃ¢Â?Â¦the man. She was surprised that it aroused her.
Returning to the kitchen, she grabbed the beer and went into the living room.
He was sitting there, in his chair. “Take the tour?”
She sort of smiled, said nothing.
A large bookcase covered one entire wall and she walked in front of it, letting her fingers move over the volumes as she passed. She stopped and saw a magazine laying atop the books. She opened it.
The light flickered in her eyes like a movie projector as disconnected sensations flashed through her mind: applause, perfume, rarefied air, warm adoration. She felt all that but she couldn’t say it. Everything was slow, like being underwater. Was she dreaming? Where was she? Weakness took hold of her.
She looked upÃ¢Â?Â¦she looked up and he was reaching for her.
“What!” she screamed, stiffening, eyes ablaze.
” I thought you were going to pass out,” he said, backing away.
” NoÃ¢Â?Â¦not going to do that.”
An intense flash blinded them and an explosive concussion jolted the house. Her scream brought darkness.
He clumsily groped along a small table, found a flashlight, and turned the beam toward her.
She had vanished.
He went to the door and opened it. A blast of wind-driven rain slapped him across the face. Lyra’s eyes caught the light like a pair of misplaced stars. She stood there, sensing tension. He walked out on the porch, squinting in the darkness. Stood there, then turned to go back inside.
” Come in LyraÃ¢Â?Â¦.c’monÃ¢Â?Â¦it’s ok.”
But she turned and looked out toward the trees, softly hissing. He shone the light that way but it broke up in the chaotic atmosphere.
” Is she there Lyra? Do you see her?” he said more to himself than the lion.
The darkness stayed on. He had lit a single candle poured himself a brandy and settled back into his chair. He might need to be a little drunk to get through this night. She had jangled his nerves.
His eyes were closed. Had he fallen asleep? The clock said 12:45. How could that be? It seemed hours since she disappeared. Again he drifted, dreaming of the beach, of big, monstrous waves. Then he became conscious of light through his eyelids.
” Thank god this night is over,” he thought.
But the light was harsh and came from a car in the driveway. The howling wind had kept its sound from him. The twin beams came through the windowpanes, tentacle like, and jerked him awake.
He got up, unsteady, and opened the door. It just sat there. No one got out.
” What the hell is this?”
He shut the door and turned the lock, blew out the candle, and stood there in the dark.
After awhile the car slowly backed out and was gone.
He went into the kitchen, looked at the mess she had left and felt a pang of longing overcome him. He felt clumsy, inadequate.
A noise in the bathroom made him jump.
” Damn! Are you here? Is that you?” He hadn’t looked aroundÃ¢Â?Â¦ assumed she’d left the house.
He trembled as he walked down the hallway, turned, and pointed the flashlight atÃ¢Â?Â¦ Lyra. She had been sniffing the blanket left on the floor that she had been wrapped in, slept in.
” No!” he shouted. The cat ran out.
He knelt down to pick up the blanket, but gathered it in his arms and pressed it to his face. The delicate, mysterious scent of her rushed inside of him before he could prepare himself.
” Where are you? Who are you?” he kept repeating, and fell into a stupor again.
The power came on. The phone rang. The answering machine clicked on.
” Hello?Ã¢Â?Â¦I’m sorryÃ¢Â?Â¦thanksÃ¢Â?Â¦for the tea, and everythingÃ¢Â?Â¦if someone comes looking for meÃ¢Â?Â¦” A long pause. She hung up.
The light revived him. He looked down at the blanket, around the bathroom, and got up with some difficulty. He came into the living room, the lights flickered offÃ¢Â?Â¦onÃ¢Â?Â¦then off again. Did he hear the phone ring? Glancing at the powerless answering machine he picked up the phone. Dead.
” Just as well,” he said, shaking his head, ” Just as well.”
He took something from a bookshelf, went out to the porch and eased into an old rocking chair. The wind seemed to abate and he pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He regarded it between his fingers as if this was a rare indulgence. The lion sprawled at his feet. ” How far could she have gone Lyra? In her condition? And only wearing my shirtÃ¢Â?Â¦.”
A moving light appeared in the trees. Lyra sprang up and growled. A man in rain gear materialized with a flashlight.
” Now what?” he muttered to Lyra.
” I’m looking for a woman-red hair, thin, 38 years old, probably alone. She may have come here for shelter.”
” Who’s looking for her?”
” A very important person, but that’s not your concern. Have you seen her?” He pointed his flashlight into the window.
” Who would be wandering around in this weather?”
” Have you seen her?”
” No, and get that light out of my face!”
He began to climb the steps.
” No! Don’t do that!”
Lyra flew forward and knocked him flat on his back, the flashlight tracing a long arc in the darkness as if he had shot off a flare. She stood upon his chest, fangs bared, misting his glasses with her breath.
” LyraÃ¢Â?Â¦come,” he said in a matter of fact voice, remaining in the chair. She looked back at him and only then lept off and returned to the porch.
The stunned intruder lay there for a few seconds, got up, and walked away fast.
” Hmmm. He forgot his flashlight.” He reached down and stroked the cat. ” Good girl Lyra.” She purred. ” Let’s go to sleep.”
His window faced east and the first ray of morning sun struck him in the face. He opened his eyes and heard the water running in the kitchen. He bolted into the kitchen and there she was doing the dishes and humming a song he couldn’t quite place.
She was still wearing his shirt, but also a pair of jeans.
Her face kind of appeared as she turned around and looked at him with a smile that would take years to describe.